Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has repeatedly been heard speaking of the renaissance of Ethiopia with a growth trajectory of becoming one of the few superpowers over the coming 30 years. The ten years perspective plan recently adopted by the government also has ambitions of leading the country to prosperity so as to make it the “Beacon of Africa’s Growth.” This is the narrative and tone in every public event, hosted by the PM himself and other high government officials. Similarly, this was the tone during the inaugural ceremony for the signing event of the first telecom license given to a consortium of five operators led by Kenya’s Safaricom.
During the event, representatives from Safaricom and Vodacom committed to contribute their best for the attainment of the country’s vision. In addition, they promised to help Ethiopia achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals as well as the digital transformation goals.
This was iterated by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who also asserted the historical and brotherly links between the two countries. This statement followed PM Abiy’s statement on the same stage. Abiy first said the two countries are one people and their development destiny is interdependent.
However, the two countries are not just partners in development but also competitors in different fields including geopolitical dominance. But the balance seems to have tilted towards Kenya recently.
One example for this could be the call between President Biden and President Kenyatta which featured the crisis in Tigray. A White House statement in February 2021 indicated that, the two leaders “discussed the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights crises in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the need to prevent further loss of life and ensure humanitarian access.’
Apart from this, the two leaders were said to have discussed “other matters of regional stability.”
This call between Biden and Kenyatta was a point of discussion among many observers of international geopolitical developments and the Horn of Africa’s diplomatic affairs. While some observed that it was not right to discuss Ethiopia’s matter with a foreign leader without involving the country’s leader, others said it was a matter of shifting interests from Ethiopia, which used to be a strategic ally of the US and the West.
An article in 2014 by Kidist Mulugeta published by Frederick Ebert Stiftung (FES) indicated that the position Ethiopia held at the time was significant that it influenced regional policies which other states in the region could not match.
“Ethiopia’s military power, population size, relative internal stability and diplomatic strength have enabled it to position itself as a regional power and to drive regional peace and security initiatives. Ethiopia has also been able to influence regional security agendas through sub-regional and regional organizations. The convergence of Ethiopia’s interests and those of its western partners further give Ethiopia legitimacy in its regional role and status,” she found out.
But she advices the country to improve internal political conditions to ensure the sustainability of this dominance.
Another article by Mehari Tadele in 2017 published by South African Institute of International Affairs indicated “Over the past decade, Ethiopia has moved toward a more focused and robust stance in its regional foreign policy, in the process bolstering its status as a pivotal regional power and a major player in African affairs.”
Like Kidist, Mehari also indicated the importance of internal political stability which the government gave attention by crafting the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy in 2002.
Another development that could indicate the shifting geopolitical importance of Ethiopia and the rise of Kenya as a replacement to the place Ethiopia used to enjoy in the past is the decision by the US government to deploy its military to Kenya to counter Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
A story by the Turkish Anadolu Agency on June 13, 2021 reported “President Biden said that he had approved sending special operations troops to Kenya, which are expected to collaborate with the Kenyan military in combating Al-Shabaab.” Kenya’s The Citizen also reported the same.
This decision by the US comes amidst US concerns regarding the conflict in Ethiopia where it repeatedly is calling for cease fire. The US also sanctioned Ethiopian officials denying them visas apart from economic and other limitations.
In addition, this happened in a context where the US announced the withdrawal of some 700 troops from Somalia stationed to fight the Al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab terrorist group. These forces are going to be moved to Kenya and Djibouti, according to the US Military Africa Command spokesperson Col. Chris Karns.